Looking to the Future at GEOINT Foreword

Pre-conference session focuses on geospatial analytic challenges


Yesterday, Dr. Darryl Murdock kicked off GEOINT Foreword, the GEOINT Symposium pre-conference day dedicated to science and technology.

“We need to be paying more attention to the future,” Murdock, vice president of professional development for USGIF, told the audience gathered to hear about analytic challenges.

Throughout the morning, several guest speakers defined the future Murdock wants the audience to pay more attention.

The future will require adapting from finite to near-infinite information sources, according to John Goolgasian, director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s (NGA) Source Operations and Management Directorate, adding the move means changing from an “Industrial Era” of data collection to a “Post-Industrial Age” with vast information opportunities that require automation to manage volume in a meaningful way.

“We must change from thinking of ourselves as collectors to sensors,” Goolgasian said. “Our value will be in sense-making, not merely in collecting data.”

In doing so, the GEOINT Community will need to change from what Gary Dunow, director of NGA’s Analysis Directorate, called “the bifurcated way we look at our mission and our system.”

Polarity must be eliminated.

“We have analysis and technology, and very rarely the [two are] allowed to meet,” Dunow said. “This is probably the most significant challenge for us.”

During a breakout Q&A session on analytics challenges, Lon Haman of NGA’s Analysis Directorate emphasized the need for tradecraft and technology to rapidly co-evolve.

During another breakout session, NGA’s Scott Webster and Mike Scharpen said the agency seeks potential solutions for four challenges, which will be posted July 3 to USGIF’s new Industry Solutions MarketSpace (ISM) website. Over the next year, NGA will offer industry an opportunity to meet those challenges, beginning with a September 14 Industry Day. To gain access to ISM, visit jivango.com and create an account using your organization’s DUNS number.

“I need to understand all of my options more quickly,” Scharpen said in what he called a “plea to industry.”

Scharpen added, “Visualization is a great tool to take advantage of automation… I need visualization so I can digest lots of data.”

Representatives from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and the Air Force GEOINT Office also described their analytic challenges during the Monday morning sessions.

Los Alamos, created to develop atomic and nuclear weapons in World War II, now exists to monitor proliferation of such weapons. Their process needs more help from the GEOINT Community, said Paula Knepper, the lab’s program director for emerging threats & opportunities.

“We need to develop the geospatial intelligence tools that would allow our analysts a comprehensive view of the spectrum of threats,” Knepper said. She added this would be a multi-disciplinary process to include GEOINT.

GEOINT offers context and a method to integrate the mountains of data collected by the lab, according to Daniela Moody, a scientist in the intelligence and space research division at Los Alamos.

The Air Force is looking to GEOINT for the assessment of environmental threats aircraft and personnel may encounter on short notice, said Eileen Preisser, director of the Air Force GEOINT Office.

Automating Intel

The U.S. Air Force is having mixed results in its quest to automatically generate intelligence products from data collected by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), according to Dr. Steven ‘Cap’ Rogers, senior scientist for automatic target recognition and sensor fusion at the Air Force Research Laboratory.

The Air Force is getting better at automating data analysis and is fielding improved capabilities in a couple Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS) environments, according to Rogers. The Air Force DCGS produces intelligence information from data collected by sensors aboard both unmanned and manned aircraft.

Rogers said the Air Force is also making gradual progress in automated target tracking, but has made little headway in automated target acquisition.
With target acquisition, “I have job security,” Rogers said. “We’ve thrown billions of dollars at it and we don’t have it yet.”

Asked whether the Air Force plans to modify DCGS to maximize automation, Rogers replied that a “robust” study is underway to address “the future of that weapon system.”

For years, the Air Force has grappled with how to handle the exponential volume of data it collects from UAVs and other platforms. Rogers said the current approach for collecting information, which he said is to “throw people at a problem,” is not scalable or agile enough for today’s environment. The Air Force wants to be able to make sense of data as it is collected, but such an approach will require improved autonomy.

Better autonomy is difficult to achieve when the goal is to be able to respond effectively even in the face of unexpected queries or unanticipated circumstances, he said.

In response to another question, Rogers declined to say whether autonomy raises morality concerns such as taking humans out of the loop to make life-or-death decisions.

“The challenges are so immense and the state of the art is so minuscule that it’s not even worth discussing,” he said.


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